I Discover Symmetry
whole thing started 25 years ago. I was a student at Penn State and
just as I finished my last exams before Christmas, a tremendous snow
storm dumped two feet of snow on my part of the world. I was sick to
death of study and ready for a vacation, but the storm made travel
impossible, so I cast about for something to do with my afternoon. I
trudged through the still-blowing storm to the HUB, which is a place
for students to relax on campus. My friends had left for home just
before the storm started, so I found myself poking around in the HUB
book store, more for something to do than with any real hope of
finding anything that would interest me. As I wandered around in my
damp snow gear, I noticed a book which was to change my life in a
minor sort of a way. Called Altair Design, this import from England
was nothing more than page after page of black symmetrical patterns
on white paper. The idea was that you were to take colored markers
and fill in the spaces between the lines to reveal any picture or
design which you saw in the patterns. I paid my $1.95 for the book,
and also bought some cheap markers; and settled down in the nearly
empty student lounge to see what I could do with my purchases.
I spent the whole of that quiet December afternoon making Altair
designs. I began by coloring in spaces to make snakes, flowers and
hot dogs. This was a lot like the game we all played as children
lying on our backs in the yard and finding castles in the clouds.
Gradually I became interested in the symmetry of the patterns and
started coloring whole pages in colorfully symmetric ways. After two
or three hours of coloring tiny spaces, I had had enough. The sun
was setting and I was ready for a walk in the snow. As I walked I
noticed symmetry in everything I saw, and I thought how the Altair
designs had the same sorts of symmetry. The patterns I had created
were interesting to look at but they had required too much work to
produce. What I thought I needed was some sort of a computer that
would display the patterns on a TV screen and then let me color the
screen by simply touching it wherever I wanted to place a color. I
had just finished a computer programming course and thought this
would be a fine program to write when the right kind of computer
came along. At that time though I was using punched cards and a
printer connected to a large and very slow IBM mainframe computer.
My little program would have to wait.
So I put Altair Design on my bookshelf that evening and the next day
went sliding home to Christmas over the newly plowed roads. I didn't
know it at the time, but I had been infected by this little Altair
interlude. From then on I was fascinated by all things symmetrical
and collected any book that I came across on the subject.
Spirographs, symmetric puzzles, kaleidoscopes, anything at all along
these lines, if I could afford it, I bought it. Also back in some
dim recess of my skull there was a part of me waiting for the right
hardware to come along so that I could write my own program for
doing Altair-like designs.